June 18, 2008

Web Site Helps Families Locate One Another During Disasters

By Jamie Rogers, Florence Morning News, S.C.

Jun. 18--Those in the midst of hurricanes, tornados and other natural disasters -- such as those affecting the Midwest -- have a way to let family members and loved ones know how they're faring, thanks to the Safe and Well Web site provided by the American Red Cross.

Stacy Jones, director of disaster services for the Pee Dee Chapter of the American Red Cross, said the scene during and after a major event can be chaotic. Communication may be disrupted and family members might not be able to get in contact with one another, he said.

"When a major disaster happens, so many people are trying to call (us) to check on friends and relatives," he said. "This is a way the Red Cross was trying to help the infrastructure."

Once on the Web site's homepage, https://disastersafe.redcross.org, victims can select the disaster they're associated with and list themselves as safe and well, Jones said. The Red Cross will have a computer available at shelters so evacuees can readily use the site.

Those affected by a natural disaster are encouraged to enter as much information about themselves as possible, especially a home address and a primary phone number before the disaster. This will make it easier for someone's listing to be found on the Web site, Jones said.

"Nine times out of 10, they aren't going to know where you have evacuated to, so they can search by pre-disaster home address," he said.

Family members should make sure they have everyone's home address and home phone number well before the disaster so they can search for loved ones quickly, Jones said.

"You can also leave information about the best way to contact you right then and there," he said. "If you're at a shelter, it will have some type of phone, so you can list that phone number and address."

If a natural disaster victim doesn't have access to a computer, he or she can find a Red Cross volunteer or visit the nearest Red Cross chapter and register, Jones said.

The idea for the Web site came about in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina, when many Gulf Coast residents were scattered across the country with no way for their family and friends to know how or where they were.

This year, more than 5,000 people associated with disaster-stricken areas have registered with the site, Jones said. Red Cross officials, however, said not enough people know about the program.

"We have to get the story out about this because people don't know about it," he said, "and to be effective, people have to know about (the Web site)."


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